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UK partnership aims to revolutionise imaging for drug development

04 May 2021

Nine-partner project including Zepler Institute will develop imaging technologies “at unprecedented resolution and speed”.

The UK Prosperity Partnership, which includes laser expertise from the Zepler Institute for Photonics & Nanoelectronics (ZIPN), is an ambitious new drug development program.

The collaboration is one of nine Prosperity Partnerships announced by the UK Government, to be funded by a total £75 million ($104 million) investment from business, academia and UK Research and Innovation's (UKRI) Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Professor Sumeet Mahajan, Professor in Molecular Biophotonics and Imaging at ZIPN, commented, “This partnership will bring together technology developers and end-users to create transformative opportunities in quantitative imaging of 3D biological samples.

“Novel volume imaging technologies at unprecedented resolution and speed, augmented by machine learning, will bring about a step change in the pre-clinical testing of drug candidates for the pharmaceutical industry and for evaluating treatments.”

The research will bring together experts from Southampton's School of Chemistry, School of Biological Sciences and Institute for Life Sciences with ZIPN's Optoelectronics Research Centre.

Professor David Richardson, Deputy Director of the ZIPN, said, “The ORC is looking forward to working with the partners to demonstrate the huge potential of ultrafast fibre laser technology in advanced medical imaging.

“The use of compact, high performance laser sources capable of generating pulses with accurately shaped temporal and spatial beam characteristics should open up new ways of probing biological systems on the nanoscale both from a structural and chemical perspective with the potential to improve the health and lives of people both in the UK and across the world.”

The partnership is intended to develop tools to provide live, high-resolution 3D images on a large scale to determine the impact of drug candidates in living spheroid, organoid and organ-on-a-chip systems that mimic real human physiology.

These living systems are miniaturised yet realistic versions of human tissue and organs that are derived from one or more types of biological cells. This would provide an upgrade on current techniques which rely on the invasive and time-consuming process of using fluorescent light to determine their impact.

Robert Forster, Head of Biophotonics at M Squared, commented, “The opportunity the project has to create a step change in shortening the time it takes to bring drug candidates to the clinic is truly exciting.”

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